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Foods That Can Improve Sleep

Sleep and food

Sleep is the body’s recovery phase of the day. This is when muscles can repair, the brain can recharge, and other benefits occur that we still don’t fully understand.

Studies show that insufficient sleep causes us to seek out high-calorie foods the next day. This can prolong the disrupted sleep cycle and result in poor overall health. New research confirms what doctors have been saying for a long time: Food and sleep go hand in hand.

There are some foods and small dietary changes you can incorporate into your day for a more restful night.

1. Chamomile tea

Tea is often a favorite choice when it’s time to wind down. Several decaffeinated teas help promote sleepiness. But do any of them work as advertised?

Chamomile tea has been used as a natural tranquilizer and sleep-inducer, and one review shows this is very true. The warmth of the water can also raise body temperature, which is like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Hello, Snoozeville.

(Beware: Some people may be allergic, especially people who are allergic to daisies or ragweed.)

2. A glass of warm milk

Mom’s remedy never fails. A warm glass of milk before bed can help you sleep better. Besides the soothing sipping, milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid linked to better sleep. Tryptophan is also found in Parmesan and cheddar cheese. Some cheese and crackers before bed may help you nod off peacefully.

3. Tryptophan-heavy proteins

Tryptophan is most notoriously known for being in turkey, since many people get sleepy after eating a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. While tryptophan is present in turkey, its levels are similar to that of any other protein and not high enough to knock you out.

There may be a link between tryptophan and serotonin, a chemical messenger that helps produce healthy sleeping patterns as well as boost your mood. Eggs, tofu, and salmon are some foods that contain tryptophan. Here’s some more tryptophan-containing and serotonin-boosting foods.

4. Bananas

Bananas not only contain some tryptophan — they’re rich in potassium, too. This is an important element to human health and a natural muscle relaxant as well. According to one study, potassium levels also play a role in sleep, with more benefiting slumber time.

Bananas also contain magnesium. A double-blind placebo-controlled study found that increasing a person’s magnesium intake can help treat insomnia and other sleep-related problems.

5. Other sources of magnesium

Other food sources rich in magnesium include:

  • spinach, kale, broccoli, and dark green vegetables
  • milk, with the highest amounts in non-skim milk
  • cereals, oatmeal, and bran flakes
  • sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and walnuts

Besides healthy sleep, getting the right amount of magnesium can help prevent stroke, heart attack, and bone diseases.

6. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced in your body. It’s partially responsible for regulating a person’s circadian rhythm, or their sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin may also be effective in relieving sleeping problems. It’s available in supplement form and touted as a sleep-inducing drug.

Foods with naturally occurring melatonin include:

  • pistachios
  • grapes
  • tomatoes
  • eggs
  • fish

Things to cut out

Besides adding things to your diet, there are things you can cut out to make bedtime more bearable.

The obvious culprit is caffeine. It comes in many forms other than that last cup of coffee to get you through the weekday. Chocolate, many teas, and countless "energy" drinks and products can also make sleep elusive.

Cut out alcohol if you’re really in need for quality sleep. While it may make you feel sleepy, it reduces the quality of your sleep.

Other small changes you can make

Just as the calories you put in make a difference, the ones you expel are just as important. Doing 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular exercise is key to overall health. It also helps your body shut down at night.

Another small change is avoiding screen time, especially in bed. This includes TV, tablets, and smartphones. One study found that adults with more screen time overall had more trouble falling and staying asleep. Another study found that limiting screen time for kids improved their sleep, too. So, stop reading this and go to sleep!


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Written by: Brian Kranson: Nov 08, 2017

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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